You may have heard of terms like acro, rate, manual, self level, horizon mode but not understood what they really meant. This post should help you understand what all those terms mean and how the flight mode affects the flight characteristics of the drone.
First thing to understand is that there are two main types of flight modes, self-level and acro mode.
There are a few names for the same modes: Angle and Horizon modes are both self level modes, though they have a slight difference, more on that later. Rate and Manual modes are other names for Acro mode.
The flight modes have to do with how the flight controller (the computer chip that controls the motors of the drone) assists the pilot with flying the drone.
In self-level mode the flight controller assists the pilot and can take control of the drone. When the pilot takes their hand off the sticks of the transmitter (AKA RC Controller), the flight controller will try to keep the drone level.
In acro mode if the pilot takes their hands off the sticks of the transmitter, the drone will continue to fly in the last orientation it was in. Acro mode forces the pilot to make constant adjustments to the sticks to put the drone in a level orientation.
Technical Note: Acro mode uses only the gyroscopic sensors on the flight controller, while self-level modes use both the gyroscope and accelerometer. The gyroscopes will prevent any disturbance from external factors, but won’t interfere with inputs from the pilot. The accelerometer tells the flight controller which direction is up and the flight controller spins the corresponding motors faster/slower to level itself.
The two self-level modes, Horizon and Angle, are very similar but have one main difference. In angle mode the transmitter’s stick controls the angle of tilt of the drone. When the stick is at its maximum position the drone will hold a maximum angle of tilt allowed. When you release the stick back to the center, the drone will follow the stick back to level with the ground. Horizon mode will keep the drone level when the sticks are centered and it will also allow the pilot to do flips and rolls when stick is at its maximum position. However, doing flips in Horizon mode is not fully acrobatic and is sort of like a toy-grade push button flip.
Acro mode allows for fully acrobatic drone flight. This can be very intimidating for beginners because the pilot is in full control and needs to make constant adjustments to fly the drone. There is a steep learning curve but the pilot gets the best control of the drone and it is very rewarding.
Technical Note: In acro mode, the pilot uses the stick to control the drone’s angular velocity of rotation.
In acro mode, when the pilot moves their pitch stick forward and holds it, the drone will continue to rotate forward at a constant rate instead of remaining at the corresponding angle as it would in a self-level mode. In acro mode, if the pilot lets go of the stick, the drone will maintain its current attitude (angle) and will not return to level, unless the pilot counteracts the movement of the stick in the opposite direction.
Angle Mode (a self-level mode):
- Remains level without stick input
- Pitch and roll is limited to a particular angle and the drone will not flip
Horizon Mode (a self-level mode):
- Remains level without stick input
- Pitch and roll is not fully limited and the drone will allow for flips
All Self-Level Modes:
- Pitch and roll inputs determine how far the drone will rotate on the axis
- Requires stick input to manually return the drone to level with the horizon
- Pitch and roll inputs determine how fast the drone will rotate on the axis